It’s a 2014 Final Four that is chock full of compelling stories – and interesting paths each club took on its way to Arlington, TX.
What it is NOT is a foursome of clubs – minus one notable exception – with any “sure-fire” first-round selections in the next NBA Draft.
Only Kentucky, via freshmen Julius Randle and James Young, and sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein, seems assured of having first-round, “I’m gonna shake hands with Adam Silver!” moments on June 26.
And, by all appearances, Cauley-Stein (with an apparent ankle injury of some magnitude), will be an up-close spectator on the Wildcats’ bench against Wisconsin Saturday night.
That being conceded, there is a nice number of players whose “draft stock” – perceived or otherwise – has been “enhanced” with their tournament play.
Here are, from my perspective, five players who helped their “draft stock” – be in June or a year or two from now – with their play in the first two weeks of the tournament:
They were hyped – over, “over-hyped”, if you will – as “sure-fire, one-and-done, lottery selections” before they stepped foot on the court in a Kentucky uniform.
Andrew “is the point guard” and Aaron “the shooting guard” but each had a much tougher time living up the hyperbole than did fellow 2013 McDonald’s All-Americans such as Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Aaron Gordon and Tyler Ennis.
The whispers from anonymous “NBA front office-types and scouts” Andrew might be fortunate to be an early second-round choice and Aaron might not be drafted at all if they, in fact, went the “one-and-done” route.
Are they, in fact, “lottery picks” – or even “lock first-rounders” – based upon their late-season performances, especially during the NCAA Tournament? For sure, no the former and I’m not positive about the latter.
But their efforts in helping the Wildcats go from “under-achieving, No. 8 seeds” to “possible national champions” in a few weeks has, no doubt, give NBA talent evaluators and decision makers pause to take longer – and more favorable – looks at the respective potential of the twins.
*Cleanthony Early: The Wichita State senior forward put on, arguably, the most impressive individual performance – considering the caliber of opponent and magnitude of the game – during his team’s 78-76 loss to Kentucky in the Midwest Regional third round on March 23.
His ability to drill jumpers – off the dribble, in transition, spotting up or coming off screens – was stunning, as was his knack for finishing, forcefully, in transition.
Individual workouts will tell the tale, of course, but it’s difficult to imagine that someone isn’t going to select him in the 20 to 30 – minimum – range of the first round.
*Adreian Payne: He wasn’t nearly the factor in the second half against Connecticut Sunday as he was throughout the NCAA and Big Ten tournaments.
But is there a more ideal “pick-and-pop power forward” candidate who played in the NCAA tournament, with the possible exception of Jabari Parker or Doug McDermott (if you’d like to think the Duke freshman and Creighton senior will ultimately serve that role in the NBA, even if a bit undersized)?
*Frank Kaminsky: He’s more “5” (he’s listed at 7 foot) than “4” but, like Payne, his ability to step outside and knock in deep jumpers is one of the strongest parts of the repertoire possessed by this Wisconsin junior, as he demonstrated so succinctly in that West Regional championship victory over Arizona Saturday night in Anaheim.
He doesn’t turn 21 until Friday so the junior might be well served to return as a senior Badger to pick up some bulk – and vertical explosiveness – to enhance his NBA draft resume a bit more for 2015.
But he’s got everyone’s attention now, for sure.
*DeAndre Daniels: Guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright definitively have been the key elements in Connecticut’s run to the Final Four.
But there is no way to oversell the contributions of the 6-foot-8 Daniels, who has averaged 17.0 points and 6.8 rebounds per game in four tournament games.
His ability to jump shoot and put the ball on the floor is impressive for a player at his size and there is certainly a lot of “intrigue” among NBA evaluators about his future.
But – right now, at least – he is probably too wiry to compete as a 4 on the NBA level and he doesn’t have an assist in the tournament, which make speak to his ability to “create” with the ball in his hands on the next level.
Another year of strength, maturity and skills development make him more readily a part of fist-round conversation a year from now.